Fitness is fun, am I right?
Coming into the gym 4-6 days per week to lift a heavy barbell, going HAM on the assault bike, throwing around dumbbells, and laying on the floor in an exhaustive, sweaty mess is oddly addicting. Giving your all and testing your maximum threshold in your workouts is important to see and feel results!
But, what about recovery? How much time do you spend helping your body return to a non-stressed state AFTER the barbell is put away, the wall balls wiped down, and you’re off on your way to work, to pick up your kids, or to head back home to eat dinner before doing it all over again tomorrow?
When people think “recovery”, they typically think of two things: rest days and foam rolling. Both of these are great jumping off points, but they are only part of the recovery process.
This post is going to dive into the different aspects of recovery, and should give you some information on how to implement better recovery processes.
How to Recover Well
In order to recover well, let’s think about the word itself. “Recover” is listed as a verb, and defined as, “return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.”
Let’s focus on that first part there…”return to a normal state”, meaning we need to bring ourselves back down from that state of stress that we’ve put ourselves in during these tough workouts.
Ok, great, so how can we return to “normal”?
I think of putting recovery into a few different boxes: mobility/movement, sleep, and nutrition. Some are more obvious than others, so let’s chat about them!
Mobility and Movement
We need to make sure we get blood flow to our sore/tight muscles. Foam rolling is great, but chances are it’s not doing QUITE as much as you think – especially if that’s the ONLY thing you’re doing.
If you’re crazy stiff from all those squats/deadlifts/push presses, flopping down on the couch all day without moving (because standing up is hard) is actually the last thing you want to do! On your rest days, make it a habit to get some low-intensity movement in.
The goal here is NOT intensity — it’s simply to get the blood flowing. Walking, gardening, yoga, or even jumping on the rower or bike for 20 minutes can really help your body feel better by getting fresh blood flow to those sore muscles. End result: You feel less sore!
Sleep often gets overlooked. Again, we tend to think of adequate recovery as “days I don’t do a workout or touch a barbell”. But, the amount and quality of sleep are crucial in allowing your body to repair itself so you can continue to function properly. Sleep is where the magic happens.
We’ve written about sleep previously, but here are some tips:
- Set a consistent sleep schedule. Our bodies THRIVE on consistency. Your body has a rhythm (known as a circadian rhythm). When you go to bed at consistent times, your body begins to produce melatonin around that time to encourage sleep. Melatonin plays the dominant role in sleep quality, and lets your body know WHEN it needs to go into a more relaxed state that is ready for sleep. When our sleep schedule is inconsistent (some nights we’re in bed at 8PM, sometimes 12AM, or 10:15PM) and we wake up at different times, your rhythm is thrown way off. You can supplement with melatonin, but it’s better to try to get on a more consistent schedule so your body can function the way it’s meant to. Make it a goal to be in bed by the same time (or within 30-60 minutes) each night — yes, even on the weekends, if possible!
- No devices in the bedroom. I know, I know…Instagram & Netflix are both winking at you. But, the blue light from our phones, laptops, and other screens stimulate our brain which makes it more difficult to “turn off” at night when we need to go to bed. Put your phone on “Sleep” mode (or better yet, put it in another room, or across the room so you’re not tempted to grab it), and don’t look at it while you’re laying in bed trying to fall asleep.
- Darkness. Make your bedroom as dark as possible! Our bodies & brains do better when we KNOW it’s night time; try blackout curtains, and minimize any unnecessary lights from electronics.
- Temperature. We’re basically Goldilocks here. We want it to be not too hot, and not too cold, but juuuuust right. If possible, set your thermostat for between 62-67 degrees. Our body temperature rises when we’re in REM sleep, so if you already run hot, it may be harder to fall asleep if your bedroom is on the warmer side. Experiment with temperatures and see if going a little cooler helps you fall asleep and stay asleep!
When we’re working out hard, we’re depleting our body of resources that fuel our workouts. In order for us to recover, we NEED to make sure that we’re eating enough after our workouts to replace the energy sources that we used up.
When we look at what sources we use during workouts, energy primarily comes from carbs and protein. Make sure that you’re eating some carbs and protein both before AND after your workout. Doing so will help to build muscle tissue (from protein) and replenish glycogen levels (from carbs) so we can avoid feeling extremely fatigued or exhausted.
Aim to get 25-35g of carbs and 20g protein before and after a workout.
The foods you eat matter. Make sure to load up on veggies, quality protein, water, and good carbohydrate sources to help regulate body processes (digestion, hormones, cognitive function, motor skills, energy production, etc.). Every chemical reaction in our body requires energy, and we want to give our body good energy sources to perform those functions.
Don’t Neglect Recovery!
If one or more of these describe you, I highly recommend taking a look at your recovery process:
- You always feel tired.
- It takes forever for you to warm up.
- You aren’t able to push as hard as you want to in workouts.
- You feel like you’re not making the gains you want.
- You’re ALWAYS sore.
This could even involve backing off the number of workouts you do in a week or intentionally dropping the intensity on certain days. Perhaps you shift from five days per week to four and incorporate some long walks on rest days. Or, you continue coming five days per week with one day intentionally focused on recovery (lighten the weight, move well, don’t focus on the score, etc). Try both and see what works for you!